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Catholics, Condoms, and the Battle at Boston College

For some churchgoers on the Boston College campus, the recent Ash Wednesday observance not only marked the beginning of the Catholic Lenten Season and a day of repentance and fasting – it also ushered in a time for free condoms.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn, for example, told CNN he was handed a free condom outside of the Ash Wednesday service.

This attention-grabbing action was a part of the continuing efforts of Boston College Students for Sexual Health, an unofficial campus group made up of students. It aims to improve “sexual health education and resources for all students at Boston College,” its website states.

The struggle between the Jesuit University of Boston College and the students for sexual health sparked national attention when, in a letter to students involved with the group, administration threatened disciplinary action against the students if they continued to dole out the rubbers.

So far, administrators have yet to offer more than verbal warnings. The group’s members, meanwhile, refuse to stop. It remains to be seen if or when campus leaders will take their warnings to the next level.

The group has distributed condoms on campus for several years now. They have said they feel Boston College fails to provide adequate protections for its students, and they mean that literally.

The group’s website states that if a student is in need of a condom, all he or she has to do is knock on one its specially marked doors and ask. (The doors were labeled with a “Safe Site” logo, but those logos have been removed in the wake of threatened disciplinary action).

The website further details: “Other resources also available at these locations: personal lubricant, female condoms, dental dams, and pamphlets about STIs, birth control, and safer sex information.”

Boston College Students for Sexual Health’s website contains 16 student dorm room Safe Sites, a contact number for an off-campus Safe Site representative, and an on-campus Safe Site office.

The group was formed in 2009 with the initiative of an Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) Referendum aimed at improving Boston College’s sexual health education and resources. More than 3,600 students – nearly 90 percent – voted in favor of the successful referendum, and the student group has been active on campus ever since.

Many Boston College students are familiar with the sexual health group because they regularly hand out condoms on public sidewalks around campus.

There are plenty of Boston College students who have voiced disapproval of these efforts, but some students do support the cause.

“The distribution of information and condoms … represents a responsible, free choice that supports and educates our community and decreases the prevalence of unwanted pregnancy and disease,” senior Kyle Humphrey said in an interview with The College Fix. “Undoubtedly, their efforts have been successful, and discontinuation would be a civic detriment.”

Humphrey, who studies nursing at the school, said that regardless of Catholic beliefs on premarital sex, a university that admits and educates young adults from diverse ethnic, sexual, and religious backgrounds has a responsibility to acknowledge the reality of today’s culture.

“People are having unprotected sex,” he said. “STIs and unwanted pregnancies occur. As a young healthcare professional, I know firsthand that primary prevention requires education and access… I firmly support the continuation of the group’s practices.”

Yet some students said they understand why campus officials must stand against efforts that oppose Jesuit, Catholic teachings – even if they don’t agree with administrators.

“I personally think that it would be in the best interest of Boston College, as a well-known institution, to offer free contraceptives,” sophomore Alissa Heller said in an interview with The College Fix. “However, being a private university, it has the right to refuse to students things that it feels directly contradict its Jesuit values. I think the student group fighting Boston College on this issue should be very cautious with its actions from this point on.”

The warning letter came as both a shock and a disappointment to Boston College Students for Sexual Health, its members have said.

Signed by Dean of Students Paul Chebator and Director of Residential Life George Arrey, the letter stated that the distribution of condoms around campus goes against the values of Boston College as a Jesuit university, and that students have a responsibility to respect that.

Catholics believe in abstinence before marriage.

The letter cited the Boston College Student Guide, which states that “all student members of the Boston College community have the responsibility to respect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic institution.”

But Boston College Students for Sexual Health remains unrepentant.

“It is expressly because we have the privilege of attending a Jesuit Catholic university so dedicated to the development of the self–both the body and the soul–that we find it both appropriate and necessary to advocate for these sexual health issues that are an integral aspect of that process,” Lizzie Jekanowski, chairwoman of the student sexual health group, told the BC Gavel Online.

She also told CNN that the group goes through “nearly 2,000 condoms a semester,” adding: “It is very much an important need here.”

Fix contributor Ariana Caraffa is a student at Boston College.

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